Staff Editorial

Candidates and their allies must dial down rhetoric, provide policy

Exterior view of the Captiol from the East Village, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Gazette Archives)
Exterior view of the Captiol from the East Village, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Gazette Archives)

Iowa’s 2018 state election match-ups are set.

In just four months, Iowans will head to the polls to elect a governor, statewide officers and legislators. Between now and then, we all will be barraged with postcards in the mailbox, calls on the phone, and advertisements on our televisions or social media feeds.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is trying to earn her first full term as governor against businessman and Democratic activist Fred Hubbell. It’s a race sure to draw plenty of attention and money. Hubbell raised and spent nearly $7 million during this year’s primary, while Reynolds reported $4 million cash on hand at the beginning of June.

In other statewide races, three Republicans and two Democrats hope to defend their jobs from challengers. They range from Attorney General Tom Miller, seeking his tenth term, to Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, who was appointed to the office earlier this year.

And Republicans will attempt to protect their majorities in the Iowa Legislature, where they currently hold 29 of 50 seats in the Iowa Senate, and 59 of 100 seats in the Iowa House.

We have high hopes for the dozens of candidates running for state office this year.

We hope a flood of outside cash won’t drown out the voices of concerned Iowa citizens.

We hope incumbents and challengers alike will agree to attend a full schedule of public debates, forums and listening posts.

Most of all, we hope campaigns focus on substantive issues facing Iowans, and not get derailed by personalities or purely partisan attacks.

HEALTH CARE

Voters consistently rank protection of Medicaid and expansion of behavioral health services among their top policy concerns. On the campaign trail, however, solutions are given short shrift.

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For more than two years, nearly 600,000 of the state’s low-income and disabled people, as well as their care providers, have suffered under an irresponsible rush to privatize Medicaid. Necessary medical services have been denied. Legitimate claims have gone unpaid. Taxpayers have not been offered an unobstructed view into how public funds are spent, and whether the investment has led to promised better health outcomes and overall state savings.

Low reimbursement rates continue to hinder the robust community-based behavioral health system legislators envisioned. Despite newly added mental health beds in population centers, Iowa remains on the low rung of access in all national rankings. Programs intended to bring more professionals into rural areas haven’t kept pace with need, which results in jails and emergency rooms filling the gaps. Meanwhile, an estimated 135,000 Iowans are battling serious mental illnesses.

Regardless of decisions leading to this point, these are the challenges Iowans face now, and voters deserve to hear each candidate’s plan going forward.

WATER QUALITY

Reynolds signed what she called a “monumental” water quality bill in January, while insisting it wouldn’t end the conversation on how best to address Iowa waterways marred mostly by agricultural runoff. But so far, Reynolds’ focus on water quality has started and stopped with the bill, a measure supported mostly by a handful of large agriculture groups that requires no meaningful monitoring to see if new money being spent is actually cleaning water.

Reynolds borrowed her monument from Republican senators who crafted it in 2017. We’d like to hear if Reynolds has any of her own ideas for improving Iowa’s water quality. We’ll be listening for Reynolds’ explanation as to why she continues to oppose raising the sales tax three-eighths of a cent to fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund approved by voters in 2010.

Hubbell has said he favors raising the tax to fill the constitutionally protected fund, but we’d like to hear much more detail on how his administration would make sure those new dollars actually make progress toward nutrient reduction goals.

A new University of Iowa study shows the amount of nitrogen pollution flowing from Iowa and spawning a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is growing, despite voluntary measures to stem farm runoff. Both candidates must answer the question, how long can these efforts remain voluntary?

BUDGET

The incoming class of leaders in Des Moines will face a difficult budget.

Earlier this year, the state made $35 million in midyear cuts, with the largest shares coming from the state’s public universities. Months before, Reynolds borrowed $13 million from state reserves to cover budget shortfalls.

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On top of that, Republican lawmakers worked out what they called a historic state tax cut. That legislation, passed in the final hours of the legislative session, is expected to trim $2 billion from Iowans’ tax bills over the next six years.

However, there also may be opportunities to increase revenue with bipartisan support.

The new tax law calls for a review of Iowa’s excessive tax credits and deductions, totaling billions each year. If the next Legislature and governor have the guts to follow through, plugging the leaks in our expansive tax break system could provide the state with crucial revenue, while also protecting any credits and deductions that have proved their worth to taxpayers.

Two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions also could prove fortuitous. One allows states to legalize — and tax — sports betting, and another empowers state governments to impose sales tax on out-of-state corporations making online sales in their states. The Legislature did not take up sports betting in 2018, but they did include internet sales tax provisions in the new tax law.

EDUCATION

Education funding and school policy were hot topics in Des Moines this session, and the issues are likely to return next year.

This year, lawmakers approved just a 1 percent increase in per-pupil funding to school districts, totaling about a $70 increase per student — a decision sharply criticized as being too little.

Only one time in the past eight years has the Legislature approved the 4 percent funding increase school administrators say is necessary to maintain programs and keep pace with the economy.

Lawmakers also failed to advance a proposal to create state-funded education savings accounts, which families could use to pay private school tuition, and increase access to non-traditional public charter schools.

With insufficient legislative support for those school choice measures, Iowans still are looking for big ideas for Iowa’s schools.

WORKFORCE

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Iowa’s business leaders say they are facing a shortage of skilled workers, as demonstrated by our low unemployment and high workforce participation rates.

The Legislature approved a Future Ready Iowa program this year with bipartisan support. The project aims to increase access to training in high-demand careers. Analysts say about 58 percent of Iowans have post-high school education, but the figure should be increased to 70 percent.

Adequately funded, this and similar programs could improve and expand our workforce.

However, solving problems also requires a focus on multiple fronts, including education, housing and transportation. Leaders must not forget the crucial role immigration can play in fostering a healthy and growing workforce.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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